Chapter no 59

House of Earth and Blood

“What do you mean, Danika was selling it?”

Tharion shook his head. “I don’t know if she was selling it or buying it or what, but right before synth started appearing on the streets, she was spotted on an Auxiliary boat in the dead of night. There was a crate of synth on board.”

Hunt murmured, “It always comes back to Danika.”

Above the roaring in her head, Bryce said, “Maybe she was confiscating it.”

“Maybe,” Tharion admitted, then ran a hand through his auburn hair. “But that synth—it’s some bad shit, Bryce. If Danika was involved in it


“She wasn’t. She never would have done something like that.” Her heart was racing so fast she thought she’d puke. She turned to Hunt. “But it explains why there were traces of it on her clothes, if she had to confiscate it for the Aux.”

Hunt’s face was grim. “Maybe.”

She crossed her arms. “What is it, exactly?”

“It’s synthetic magic,” Tharion said, eyes darting between them. “It started off as an aid for healing, but someone apparently realized that in super-concentrated doses, it can give humans strength greater than most Vanir. For short bursts, but it’s potent. They’ve tried to make it for centuries, but it seemed impossible. Most people thought it was akin to alchemy—just as unlikely as turning something into gold. But apparently modern science made it work this time.” He angled his head. “Does this have to do with the demon you were hunting?”

“It’s a possibility,” Hunt said.

“I’ll let you know if I get any other reports,” Tharion said, and didn’t wait for a farewell before diving back into the water.

Bryce stared out at the river in the midday sun, gripping the white opal in her pocket.

“I know it wasn’t what you wanted to hear,” Hunt said cautiously beside her.

“Was she killed by whoever is creating the synth? If she was on that boat to seize their shipment?” She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Could the person selling the synth and the person searching for the Horn be the same, if the synth can possibly repair the Horn?”

He rubbed his chin. “I guess. But this could also be a dead end.” She sighed. “I don’t get why she never mentioned it.”

“Maybe it wasn’t worth mentioning,” he suggested. “Maybe,” she murmured. “Maybe.”

Bryce waited until Hunt hit the gym in her apartment building before she dialed Fury.

She didn’t know why she bothered. Fury hadn’t taken a call from her in months.

The call nearly went to audiomail before she answered. “Hey.”

Bryce slumped against her bed and blurted, “I’m shocked you picked up.”

“You caught me between jobs.”

Or maybe Juniper had bitten Fury’s head off about bailing.

Bryce said, “I thought you were coming back to hunt down whoever was behind the Raven’s bombing.”

“I thought so, too, but it turned out I didn’t need to cross the Haldren to do it.”

Bryce leaned against her headboard, stretching out her legs. “So it really was the human rebellion behind it?” Maybe that on the crates Ruhn thought was the Horn was just that: a letter.

“Yeah. Specifics and names are classified, though.”

Fury had said that to her so many times in the past that she’d lost count. “At least tell me if you found them?”

There was a good chance that Fury was sharpening her arsenal of weapons on the desk of whatever fancy hotel she was holed up in right now. “I said I was between jobs, didn’t I?”


A soft laugh that still freaked Bryce the fuck out. “Sure.” Fury paused. “What’s up, B.”

As if that somehow erased two years of near-silence. “Did Danika ever mention synth to you?”

Bryce could have sworn something heavy and metallic clunked in the background. Fury said softly, “Who told you about synth?”

Bryce straightened. “I think it’s getting spread around here. I met a mer today who said Danika was seen on an Aux boat with a crate of it, right before she died.” She blew out a breath.

“It’s dangerous, Bryce. Really dangerous. Don’t fuck around with


“I’m not.” Gods. “I haven’t touched any drugs in two years.” Then

she added, unable to stop herself, “If you’d bothered to take my calls or visit, you would have known that.”

“I’ve been busy.”

Liar. Fucking liar and coward. Bryce ground out, “Look, I wanted to know if Danika had ever mentioned synth to you before she died, because she didn’t mention it to me.”

Another one of those pauses.

“She did, didn’t she.” Even now, Bryce wasn’t sure why jealousy seared her chest.

“She might have said that there was some nasty shit being sold,” Fury said.

“You never thought to mention it to anyone?”

“I did. To you. At the White Raven the night Danika died. Someone tried to sell it to you then, for fuck’s sake. I told you to stay the Hel away from it.”

“And you still didn’t find the chance to mention then or after Danika died that she warned you about it in the first place?”

“A demon ripped her to shreds, Bryce. Drug busts didn’t seem connected to it.”

“And what if it was?” “How?”

“I don’t know, I just …” Bryce tapped her foot on the bed. “Why wouldn’t she have told me?”

“Because …” Fury stopped herself. “Because what?” Bryce snapped.

“All right,” Fury said, her voice sharpening. “Danika didn’t want to tell you because she didn’t want you getting near it. Even thinking about trying synth.”

Bryce shot to her feet. “Why the fuck would I ever—” “Because we have literally seen you take everything.”

“You’ve been right there, taking everything with me, you—”

“Synth is synthetic magic, Bryce. To replace real magic. Of which you have none. It gives humans Vanir powers and strength for like an hour. And then it can seriously fuck you up. Make you addicted and worse. For the Vanir, it’s even riskier—a crazy high and superstrength, but it can easily turn bad. Danika didn’t want you even knowing something like that existed.”

“As if I’m so desperate to be like you big, tough Vanir that I’d take something—”

“Her goal was to protect you. Always. Even from yourself.”

The words struck like a slap to the face. Bryce’s throat closed up.

Fury blew out a breath. “Look, I know that came out harsh. But take my word for it: don’t mess with synth. If they’ve actually managed to mass-produce the stuff outside of an official lab and make it in even stronger concentrations, then it’s bad news. Stay away from it, and anyone who deals in it.”

Bryce’s hands shook, but she managed to say “All right” without sounding like she was one breath away from crying.

“Look, I gotta go,” Fury said. “I’ve got something to do tonight. But I’ll be back in Lunathion in a few days. I’m wanted at the Summit in two weeks—it’s at some compound a few hours outside the city.”

Bryce didn’t ask why Fury Axtar would attend a Summit of various Valbaran leaders. She didn’t really care that Fury would be coming back at all.

“Maybe we can grab a meal,” Fury said. “Sure.”

“Bryce.” Her name was both a reprimand and an apology. Fury sighed. “I’ll see you.”

Her throat burned, but she hung up. Took a few long breaths. Fury could go to Hel.

Bryce waited to call her brother until she’d plunked her ass down on the couch, opened her laptop, and pulled up the search engine. He answered on the second ring. “Yeah?”

“I want you to spare me the lectures and the warnings and all that shit, okay?”

Ruhn paused. “Okay.”

She put the call on speaker and leaned her forearms on her knees, the cursor hanging over the search bar.

Ruhn asked, “What’s going on with you and Athalar?” “Nothing,” Bryce said, rubbing her eyes. “He’s not my type.”

“I was asking about why he’s not on the call, not whether you’re dating, but that’s good to know.”

She gritted her teeth and typed synthetic magic in the search bar. As the results filtered in, she said, “Athalar is off making those muscles of his even nicer.” Ruhn huffed a laugh.

She skimmed the results: small, short articles about the uses of a synthetic healing magic to aid in human healing. “That medwitch who sent you the information about synthetic magic—did she offer any thoughts on why or how it got onto the streets?”

“No. I think she’s more concerned about its origins—and an antidote. She told me she actually tested some of the kristallos venom she got out of Athalar from the other night against the synth, trying to formulate one. She thinks her healing magic can act like some kind of stabilizer for the venom to make the antidote, but she needs more of the venom to keep testing it out. I don’t know. It sounded like some complex shit.” He added wryly, “If you run into a kristallos, ask it for some venom, would you?”

“Got a crush, Ruhn?”

He snorted. “She’s done us a huge favor. I’d like to repay her in whatever way we can.”

“All right.” She clicked through more results, including a patent filing from Redner Industries for the drug, dating back ten years. Way before Danika’s time working there.

“The research papers say only tiny amounts are released, even for the medwitches and their healing. It’s incredibly expensive and difficult to make.”

“What if … what if the formula and a shipment leaked two years ago from Redner, and Danika was sent out to track it down. And maybe she realized whoever wanted to steal the synth planned to use it to repair the Horn, and she stole the Horn before they could. And then they killed her for it.”

“But why keep it a secret?” Ruhn asked. “Why not bust the person behind it?”

“I don’t know. It’s just a theory.” Better than nothing.

Ruhn went quiet again. She had the feeling a Serious Talk was coming and braced herself. “I think it’s admirable, Bryce. That you still care enough about Danika and the Pack of Devils to keep looking into this.”

“I was ordered to by my boss and the Governor, remember?”

“You would have looked once you heard it wasn’t Briggs anyway.” He sighed. “You know, Danika nearly beat the shit out of me once.”

“No she didn’t.”

“Oh, she did. We ran into each other in Redner Tower’s lobby when I went to meet up with Declan after some fancy meeting he was having with their top people. Wait—you dated that prick son of Redner’s, didn’t you?”

“I did,” she said tightly. “Gross. Just gross, Bryce.”

“Tell me about Danika wiping the floor with your pathetic ass.”

She could nearly hear his smile through the phone. “I don’t know how we got into it about you, but we did.”

“What’d you say?”

“Why are you assuming I did the instigating? Did you ever meet Danika? She had a mouth on her like I’ve never seen.” He clicked his tongue, the admiration in the noise making Bryce’s chest clench. “Anyway, I told her to tell you that I was sorry. She told me to go fuck myself, and fuck my apology.”

Bryce blinked. “She never told me she ran into you.”

Ran into is an understatement.” He whistled. “She hadn’t even made the Drop, and she nearly kicked my balls across the lobby. Declan had to … involve himself to stop it.”

It sounded like Danika all right. Even if everything else she’d learned lately didn’t.

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